LIVE: Richard Thompson @ Club Helsinki, 4/23/15
Review by Richard Brody
The sold-out standing-room-only crowd and the intimate setting of Club Helsinki seemed to heighten the razor-sharp focus that Richard Thompson always seems to bring to his performances. From the opening stomper “Stony Ground,” in which a sexually charged old codger gets his comeuppance, Thompson was on fire.
He delivered a performance that featured songs from every part of his career, and onstage banter that personalized the evening. He performed “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” and “Wall of Death” from his recordings with former wife Linda. He introduced the former with, “1974 was a tough time for folk rockers,” and with his cutting sarcastic wit “The competition …T-Rex, you know.” And the latter song captures the essence of Thompson the musician – don’t play it safe, go for it.
After a heartfelt performance of “Persuasion” – it featured some of Thompson’s trademark fretwork and the lyrical refrain, “After all the foolish things you put me through, I could always take a stab at something new. I’ve always been a man that’s been open to persuasion” – a woman shouted out, “It’s so beautiful every time.” Thompson stepped back with a look of mock terror on his face and called out “Security?” We were not only humorously mocked, we were also listened to. As he was beginning the introduction to “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” the man sitting next to me jumped up holding an artistic, hand-lettered sign that read “Meet On the Ledge.” Ever the gentleman, Thompson honored the request with the question, “What key shall I do it in? I’ll do it in F. It’s a happy key.” And off he went performing a song he had written at age seventeen.
Thompson’s guitar work was stunning all night, but it inspired louder ovations on several numbers: the now classic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” featuring his rapid-fire finger-picking that is the essence of the fast-living lives of James and Red Molly, and “Valerie,” where Thompson kept upping the ferocity with each solo until fingers and hands were a blur.
It is Thompson’s dark lyrics that frequently focus on the difficulty in maintaining romantic relationships that speak most loudly to his fans: “I Misunderstood” and its signature line, “I thought she was saying good luck, but she was saying goodbye,” perfectly captured two people hearing what they want to hear. But the showstopper was “Beeswing” a tale of losing the love of your life that concludes with:
Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
And I miss her more than ever words could say
If I could just taste all of her wildness now
If I could hold her in my arms today
Well, I wouldn’t want her any other way
It was not all gloom and doom. Thompson regaled us with some humorous songs as well. “Johnny’s Far Away,” about the infidelity of both a musician on a cruise ship and his wife back home, showcased Thompson’s clever phrase-turning set to a wave-churning rhythm and gleeful audience participation on the chorus.
There was the mischievous twinkle in his eye when he introduced “Fergus Laing”: “It’s a song about property development,” he explained, and is inspired by an American. “I hold you responsible,” Thompson told us. The American in question has been buying up land in Scotland, and instituting golf clubs and resorts. “I’d love to write a song about him, but he’d have me kneecapped. Or killed.” And if there was any doubt about who this American land developer is the following lyric might give it away. “Fergus Laing he builds and builds, but his are small erections / Fergus Laing has a fine head of hair when the wind’s in the right direction.”
“Fergus Laing” will be included on the deluxe version of the forthcoming album Still to be released on June 23. Two other songs from that album were included in the set: “Beatnik Walking” about a man walking through Amsterdam who is on both an inner and outer journey, and “Josephine” that has images of a maiden trapped in a tower.
Before he left the stage – after two encores – Thompson regaled us with the Who’s “Substitute.” Whether it was an homage to The Who’s final, final, final, farewell tour or a warm-up for his next Nippertown stop at the Solid Sound festival at MASS MoCA on June 27 with his Electric Trio, Thompson nailed it – just as he had done all evening.
Seth Rogovoy’s review and photographs at the Rogovoy Report
RICHARD THOMPSON SET LIST
The Ghost of You Walks
Josephine (from the soon to be released album Still)
Johnny’s Far Away
Beatnik Walk (from the soon to be released album Still)
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Dry My Tears and Move On
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Meet On the Ledge (Fairport Convention)
Good Things Happen to Bad People
Saving the Good Stuff for You
Read About Love
Fergus Lang (from the soon to be released deluxe version of the album Still)
Wall of Death
A Heart Needs a Home